An update from the Elders

An update from the Elders on June 6, 2018

Good evening. My name is Lane Moyer and I am the Chair of our Elder Board. Thank you for the opportunity to update you on the Elders’ 45-day plan to review the allegations brought against Bill Hybels and to review various policies and procedures here at the church. This will be our last Midweek update on our 45-day plan. I suspect many of you are relieved and thinking more Steve and less Elders on a Wednesday night is a good thing. I agree. That being said, this is important work and we are committed to keeping you informed throughout the process. I have three main topics to update you on tonight. First, I’ll go over our actions as a board as it relates to conversations with the women who have made accusations against Bill. Second, I’ll review some improvements in church policies. Finally, I’ll give you an update on our conversations with Bill.

In our initial plan, we committed to examining the allegations against Bill that had not been previously investigated by the Elder board. We said that we would respectfully reach out to each woman who has made an accusation, even if she did not bring her concerns directly to the board previously. Our goal was to take tangible steps toward understanding through a collaborative process with the women.

Here are the steps that were taken and where we are today in addressing the allegations:

  • We reached out to each woman who had brought an allegation against Bill. A number of the women have chosen not to speak to us but a few have spoken with us. Based on these conversations, we determined that further steps would require an agreed-upon process, which is why we enlisted an independent third party to facilitate a discussion to agree on next steps together. As I stated in my update two weeks ago, the goal of that third party was to help ensure agreement on any further investigation or mediation. The goal was not immediate reconciliation as some have suggested. We engaged Crossroads Resource Group (CRG) to act as a facilitator for these conversations. Some of the women objected to our use of CRG given one of its facilitators had done work for the church 12 years ago. Unfortunately, for confidentiality reasons, important details of this facilitator’s previous experience with Willow Creek was not shared with the Elders, and it was not until a blog entry was published that we learned about the nature of the individual’s involvement. When we learned about the full extent of the previous work, we removed the individual from the two original people we suggested, and offered three other possibilities to serve as an independent third party.
  • As of yet, none of the women has taken us up on our offer. This is certainly their right, however, further engagement and investigation is difficult without the participation of the parties involved. We remain committed to taking next steps with any of the women who would like to do so.
  • As previously stated, we believed initial apologies were important to make based on what we learned from some of the women. Again, we are deeply regretful and sorry that our initial tone was one of defensiveness and that it cast the women in an unfair and negative light. We are also sorry it was stated these were all lies. Any sweeping statement in a situation like this is inaccurate. Just as we should not have said these stories are all lies, we cannot say all the statements by all the women are true. There are discrepancies in some of these stories that will likely never be fully resolved. The charges raised against Bill go back 20 years in some cases. As much as we would like to have full, concrete information, we know this is not always possible.
  • What we are certain of is there is some truth in the stories we have heard. There is truth that Bill made inappropriate choices in how he conducted certain meetings. There is truth that the women who shared their stories felt very uncomfortable and felt that Bill had wronged them. There is truth that Bill was accountable to the Board of Elders and we should have done a better job of holding him accountable and imposing limitations to protect against some of the behaviors complained of. For all of this we apologize.  
The second matter I want to cover tonight is the examination of church policies and practices.

Here are the steps the Elders have taken, and where we are today in reviewing our policies:

  • One, we are working on a new policy that provides guardrails for our Lead Pastor and Lead Teaching Pastor leading to accountability for their interactions with members of the opposite sex that are godly, respectful, and consistent with biblical principles. This policy will also establish clear expectations around maintaining a healthy spiritual and relational balance. The Elders will receive regular reporting on how these values are being upheld. We will also have an outside, third-party reporting system by which a concern about the Lead Pastor or Lead Teaching Pastor can be raised and which will then be directly reported to the Elders.
  • Two, it is our understanding that one of the women approached an individual Elder many years ago to raise a concern about Bill. The Elder, who is no longer on the Board, and the woman determined not to elevate the issues further. In hindsight, the information should have been brought to the Board at the time so it could have been dealt with appropriately. New protocol moving forward is that any concern about the Lead Pastor or Lead Teaching Pastor raised to an individual Elder will immediately be brought to either the Board Chair, myself, or the Board Secretary, Missy Rasmussen, while maintaining as appropriate the privacy, confidentiality, and safety of the person raising the concern.
  • Three, our Lead Pastor, Heather Larson, and the Executive Team have had very positive and insightful discussions with staff about men and women working together. They are having robust conversations about values and limitations. The Willow staff loves many aspects of our church culture and that men and women can serve together and fully utilize their gifts. The Executive Team has engaged outside legal and HR experts that have affirmed our current policies and the multiple ways staff members can report a grievance, including a confidential hotline managed by an outside organization. We are committed to creating the best possible and God-honoring environment where each person can thrive and maximize their potential.
  • Finally, as we mentioned in our previous update, the Elders have reviewed the church’s email retention policy and have made some improvements. Emails will now be saved longer and all staff will operate under the same policy.
The third matter I want to cover tonight is an update on Bill. In the Elders’ initial plan, we stated we would walk alongside Bill in stewarding his season of reflection. It is important to remember the Elder Board no longer has spiritual or vocational authority over Bill as Willow Creek’s pastor. However, we have stayed in contact with Bill and Lynne since he stepped away almost two months ago. Bill wrote to us recently to update us as to how he is doing. He said his family deeply appreciates the prayers that have been said on their behalf and the notes of encouragement that have been sent their way. He also reiterated that he wants to learn everything God wants to teach him during this season of reflection, and that he will not rush this important time.

This wraps up the end of the Elders’ initial 45-day process, but not the end of our work on these matters—we will continue to engage with people personally and do everything we can to learn, improve, and grow from this experience. As I said two weeks ago, we will work diligently to strengthen the policies and procedures of our church and resolve the situations with the women as best we can. Please continue to pray for our church and God’s work that is done in His House. Our God is bigger than these issues. Thank you!